This book is meant to offer an introduction to the manifold activities of the secular peerage in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It only treats the parliamentary peerage, the men summoned by individual writs of summons to sessions of the king's parliament (plus members of their families). The great gentry, the professional captains, and the spiritual lords - the bishops and the mitred abbots - are not included. But there are peers aplenty, and if many of them have been deemed worthy of individual treatment, where the data permit, it seems self- evident that as a group they also merit our attention.
I am not concerned here to explain any particular event or single phenomenon. The Introduction, as well as the documents I have selected, is designed to survey many facets of aristocratic life and behaviour. If the political is the most striking and familiar, it must share the stage with economic, familial and personal concerns. Though I am an historian, and I write for an audience of historians, it may be that my frame of reference as well as some of my terminology will strike some readers as tainted by sociology. I apologise for unintentional insults. I do believe that we can best understand the medieval nobility if we view it as an articulate elite, the topmost segment of the upper class. The nobles expressed a considerable degree of class-consciousness and a concern with class privilege: they worried about class and status, and we should also.
This book is written under strict censures regarding length. This means that some substantive material has been jettisoned: the role of the peers in the council and their activity as builders are but two casualties, and there are many others. My debt to many scholars, living and dead, at best is summarily indicated; in too many instances it is not explicitly mentioned. Suffice it to say that I could not have written this small piece but for the labours of others. Most of the documents which make it possible to illustrate aristocratic life have already been printed, so for the most part all I had to do was to translate or modernise. A few manuscripts have been included, to give a sample of the large storehouse which is still undisturbed. I have included extracts from the various calendars of documents published by the Public Record Office. While calendared excerpts are not primary documents, they were done carefully to catch the substance of the extended original, and their brevity constitutes a compelling virtue. I have transcribed several such pieces in full (Documents 3, 26(b), 30(b) (c) (d), 36(b), 47, 68) to . . .